Gathering nettles with rubber gloves

 

Impress your friends with a nettle and parsley salsa verde or pesto.  It’s a thick green sauce or paste that you can use in a number of ways.  Harvesting nettles can be a stinging business but it’s  worth putting on rubber gloves to gather them for a highly nutritious spring hit after winter. I’ve learnt from a foraging friend that you can get rid of the prickles by simply running  the nettles under hot water.

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Daffodils with Hawthorn trees in the background.

We are well into spring at Portobello.  Spring started in September with drifts of daffodils, followed a couple of weeks later by masses of pink and white blossom and now in October most of the deciduous trees are greening up.

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Cherry blossom

Spring is my favourite season as there are visual changes on the property everyday.

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Early spring is the best time to gather nettles.  For eating purposes you need to gather them before they start to go to seed. If you have missed out on the spring nettles you can look out for them again in autumn.

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Nettle flowers are pretty inconspicuous and you first see green bobbles of buds in whorls right down the stem. You can still use nettles in flower as a rich garden fertiliser by just soaking in water or boiled up and bottled and used as a hair rinse but they are too strong flavoured for eating.

 

Salsa verde is usually made up of green herbs in oil and vinegar or lemon juice with some good quality bread added to make a thick green sauce.  Alternatively if you want to avoid gluten replace the bread for nuts. If you add parmesan cheese, you now officially have a pesto.  My version here is a gluten free salsa verde replacing the bread with nuts. 20160908_172223

You can make this sauce/paste with whatever greens you have on hand and a mix of fresh spring herbs will deliver you lots of nutrients as well.  My rule is that the bulk should be something with a mild enough flavour like parsley, chickweed or watercress as some of the other culinary herbs are strongly flavoured so are best used sparingly.

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I tend to add garlic by making a paste – one small clove (or to taste) finely cut and then squashed with flaked or ordinary salt to dissolve the garlic into a paste.

Cashews are particularly delicious with the parsley and nettles adding a sweet nuttiness but you can use any nuts.

Supposedly the nettles lose their sting with the crushing and cutting action of the food processor, but to be safe I run them under the hot tap and the stinging hairs become harmless.

Add enough oil to create a puree, then lemon juice to taste.  The lemon juice helps keep the bright green colour. It’s as simple as that.

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You can use salsa verde as you would pesto with cheese and crackers, or mix through pasta with parmesan. I like to use it as a base for an open sandwich for lunch.   Our grandson Beau lapped this up when he was staying with us over the school holidays.

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I pan roasted spring broccolini straight from the garden with a little tamari and sprinkling of sesame seeds at the end of cooking. You can hasten the process by blanching the broccolini first and then frying.  A boiled egg from the henhouse that Beau gathered himself was popped on top of the bread,salsa and broccolini.  The finishing touch is some wild garlic onion flowers.  Great nutrition for a growing 6 year old.

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This massive patch of nettles I discovered at the family farm in Southland…again under macrocarpas and where sheep had been grazing.

Nettle Urtica urens grows in phosphorus and nitrogen rich soil often near where animals are housed. I’ve discovered on our property they are under the macrocarpa trees.  It may be that the sheep and horses shelter under the macrocarpas so there is plenty of manure to enrich the soil, but there is also a dense layer of humus from the tree.   This spring green weed is therefore rich in vitamins and minerals including silica which is important for nail and hair condition.

First Aid if you do get a nettle burn or sting….

This really works, grab a dock leaf and rub the affected area.

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Docks usually have large leaves like comfrey but are smooth and often have these spots on their leaves….and they are incredibly hard to get out as they have a massive tap root which means they are bringing up minerals from way down into their leaves. So they are handy to add to your compost but make sure they don’t seed or you’ll get thousands of them!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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